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Herr DriesbachAnimal trainer extraordinaire Herr Driesbach

Historical Collections of Ohio, Henry Howe, Wayne County, pp. 841-843:

HERR DRIESBACH, the Lion Tamer

This man, greatly distinguished in his profession, lived and died in Wayne county.  He was born in Sharon, Schoharie county, New York, Nov. 2, 1807; his parents were from Germany.  When he was eleven years of age his father died, and the boy in a few years drifted to New York city, where he obtained work in the Zoological Gardens, and soon, youth as he was, made a reputation for control of wild beasts, being the first person to make a performing animal of the leopard.  In 1830 he connected himself with the travelling menagerie of Raymond & Co., and soon thereafter went to Europe with Raymond, meeting unprecedented success.  He travelled throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, then France, Germany, Holland, Russia, etc., exhibiting before all the crowned heads and nobles of Europe, and receiving many marks of their personal favor.

He returned to the United States about 1840, having established a world-wide reputation and become the foremost man in his profession.

From that time he made annual tours of the States of the Union until 1854, when he united in marriage with Miss Sarah Walter, daughter of John Walter, of Wooster township, and settled down to the peaceful pursuits of rural life.

In 1875 he began hotel keeping at Apple Creek Station.  Here, after two days' sickness, on December 5, 1877, he died, leaving a widow and one son.

Herr Driesbach was a very remarkable man, and his life was full of perilous incident, adventure and romance.

Among the anecdotes related concerning him is one describing how he frightened Edwin Forrest, the actor, and his personal friend.  Forrest was playing at the old Bowery, in New York, and the entertainment would close with an exhibition of lions by Driesbach.  Forrest was one day saying that he had never known fear, and had never experienced any emotion of fright.  Driesbach made no remark at the time, but in the evening, after the curtain had fallen, he invited Forrest home with him.  Forrest assented, and the two, entering a house, walked a long distance through many dark passages, and finally Driesbach said, after opening a door: "This way, Mr. Forrest."  The actor followed, and heard a door locked behind him, and at the same time he felt something soft rubbing against his leg.  Putting out his hands he touched what felt like a cat's back.  A low, rasping growl greeted his ears, and he saw two fiery eyeballs glaring up at him.  "Are you afraid, Mr. Forrest?" asked Driesbach.  "Not a bit," replied Forrest.  Driesbach said something, and the growl deepened and became hoarser; the back began to arch and the eyes to shine more fiercely.

Forrest held out for several minutes, but the symptoms became so terrifying that he owned up that he was afraid.  He beseeched the lion king to let him out, as he dared not move a finger while a lion kept rubbing against his leg.  After Forrest acknowledged that he knew what fear was, and agreed to stand a champagne supper, Driesbach released him.

The following is told in Driesbach's own words:
"I was exhibiting in the city of Baltimore.  We were playing a piece in which one of my tigers was to leap from above upon me as though to kill me.  After he would jump on me we would roll around on the floor as though engaged in mortal combat.  The theatre in which we were playing had a large pit, and it was filled almost to suffocation that evening with men and boys.  This time the tiger jumped over my head and was making for the pit when I caught him by the tail and hauled him back.  I needn't tell you that standing room was made mighty quick in that pit when they saw the animal coming.  They rushed out, yelling and screaming for me to hold on to him."

Probably the only speech made by Driesbach was delivered by him in Philadelphia after he had conquered an enraged elephant.  It was the time when the elephant Columbus killed his keeper in Quaker City, and afterward roamed through the building, demolishing cages and other property.  Driesbach succeeded in subduing the vicious beast, and, not content with placing him in shackles, he led Columbus into the ring, and, after making him lie down, Driesbach stood upon his head and addressed the astonished spectators as follows: "Gentlemen-- Unaccustomed, as I am, to public speaking, allow me to say to you that this is the proudest day of my life.  Napoleon and other warriors have left monuments of skulls, but I have the skull of a conquered elephant for my monument.  This is my first and last appearance as a public speaker."


Lowell Courier, Lowell MA, Tuesday evening, July 18, 1843
p. 3 column 4
 
UNPARALLELED ZOOLOGICAL EXHIBITION
For Two Days Only!

On the lot in rear of St. Anne's Church, in Lowell, containing a splendid, capacious Pavilion, capable of containing 10,000 persons.  Messrs. Raymond & Co., having united all the animals in the U. States, will exhibit them in Lowell as above-- commencing on THURSDAY, July 27th instant, and continue two days only.--  Hours of exhibition on Thursday, 27th, from 2 to 6, and from 7 to 10 o'clock, P.M.; Friday, 28th, from 9 A.M. to 12 M., and from 2 to 6, and from 7 to 10 P.M.

The proprietors having engaged Herr Driesbach, the unrivalled animal subduer, with his Leopards, Panthers, Tigers, and majestic Lion, will introduce him in the character of an outcast slave banished to the forest, expiring from hunger and fatigue, when a fierce Brazilian tiger darts upon him from an upper cavern, prostrates and seizes him by the throat-- a fight ensues, in which he subdues the tiger, and finally secures him in his den.  After which he will harness his noble lion to an ancient car, and drive over a road erected across the pavilion.  Concluding with the most bold, grand and daring display of courage ever presented, in having a whole caravan of wild animals let loose upon him at the same moment, who, then, will playfully exhibit his skill in subduing and controlling this matchless exhibition.

Admittance 25 cts-- children under 10 years half price.

The proprietors deem it necessary to remark, that in the exhibition here offered, nothing will be allowed that can in the least offend the delicacy of the most sensitive, nor will any thing be permitted offensive either to morality or good taste.

At 9 o'clock, A.M., on Thursday, the menagerie in entering the city will pass through several streets, as follows: Dutton, Merrimack, Central, Tyler, Andover, High and Washington streets, Boot Corporation to Pavilion.


 
Letters from New York, Second Series
L. Maria Child, 1845, C.S. Francis & Co, NY, p. 109
from the Dreisbach Family Association archives

April 7th, 1844
As I walk the streets, I often meet men coming out of princely houses, and obscure grog-shops, whose souls are buried and sealed up in the sepulchre of their bodies, with no indication that a spirit once lived there, except the epitaph of a fretful and dissatisfied expression.  They remind me of Driesbach's animals, leading a life of gluttony, sleep, and mechanical evolution.  The Fourierites, with significant irony, would call them both the ultimate products of civilization.

The menagerie attracts crowds daily.  It is certainly exciting to see Driesbach dash across the area in his chariot drawn by lions; or sleep on a bed of living leopards, with a crouching tiger for his pillow; or offering his hand to the mouth of a panther, as he would to the caresses of a kitten.  But I could not help questioning whether it were right for a man to risk so much, or for animals to suffer so much, for the purposes of amusement and pecuniary profit.  I pitied the poor beasts; for they seemed very sad, and their passive obedience was evidently the result of terror.  Seeing plainly, as I do, that coercion, with all its discords, is a complete reversal of the divine law of attraction, and the harmonies it evolves, this caravan, with its wonderful exhibition of subdued ferocity and imitated intelligence, appeared to me like a small apartment of infernal regions.  Again and again, I returned to be soothed by the gentle Llama.  I almost fancied that a human soul had passed into it, and was gazing sadly, through the large brilliant eyes, on this forced subjection of the free creatures of God.



Correction: We have reason to believe that Herr Driesbach's lineage, previously thought to go Simon>Jost>Philip is incorrect.  His father appears to have been Philip's half-brother, John Jost, who settled in Montgomery Co, NY.

The Dreisbach Book, p. 44, Section 9d.

This remarkable figure left Sharon, New York in 1820 when he was only eleven, and went to New York City.  There the youth got a job at the Zoological Gardens, and soon acquired a reputation for being able to tame and train ferocious animals.  At 23 he began a ten-year tour of Europe with the Raymond & Waring Menagerie.  Later he toured the United States with his own animal act.  An 1849 pamphlet publicizing his act, speaks of "the unprecendented and daring performances of Herr Driesbach with his trained lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, panthers..."  From 1853 to 1839 [sic] his traveling show was billed as Driesbach & Co.'s Circus and Menagerie.

Eventually he married an Ohio girl, Sarah Ann Walter, and settled near Wooster, Ohio before 1866, keeping the Driesbach Menagerie at his place of residence until about 1875, when he exchanged lion-taming for inn-keeping.  Jacob Driesbach was a descendant of Simon Dreisbach through Jost and Philip.  Ed. note: see corrected lineage, below

Sources:
Jane Barks Ross, "The Lion King of Apple Creek Station," The Columbus Dispatch Magazine, April 29, 1979, pp. 35-37.

George L. Chindahl, in "A History of the Circus in America," Caldwell, Idaho, 1959, makes brief mention of Herr Driesbach, pp. 65, 248.

The circus magazine "White Tops," July/August 1993, p. 15:
"(Herr Driesbach) was celebrated as the man who would step inside a cage wagon with a lion and a leopard.  As part of his act, Driesbach would be working with the lion when, suddenly, the snarling leopard would spring onto him.  He would escape only after a heroic struggle that invariably caused some in the audience to faint."



Herr Driesbach's Lineage

 1   Simon DREISBACH, Sr.
b: Bef. Aug 07, 1698 Oberndorf, Wittgenstein
Baptism: Aug 07, 1698 Obendorf, Wittgenstein, Germany
Immigration: Sep 20, 1743 "Lydia" from Rotterdam to Philadelphia
d: Mar 31, 1785 in Northampton Co, PA
Burial: 1785 Zion Stone Church, Kreidersville, Allen twp, Northampton Co, PA
..  +Maria Katharina KELLER
b: May 17, 1696 Holzhausen, Germany
m: Nov 07, 1720 in Feudingen, Germany
d: May 22, 1768 in Northampton Co. PA
Burial: 1768 Yost "D" private cemetery, Howersville
Father: Hans Wilhelm KELLER Mother: Anna Katharina GÖBEL

.... 2   Jost DREISBACH
b: Bef. Sep 18, 1721 Oberndorf, Wittgenstein
Baptism: Sep 18, 1721 Oberndorf, Wittgenstein
Military service: Revolutionary War - Colonel in 3rd Battalion Northampton Militia
d: Oct 17, 1794 in Allen twp, Northampton Co, PA
Burial: 1794 Zion Stone Church, Kreidersville, Allen twp, Northampton Co, PA
........  +Elizabeth ?
m: Abt. 1766 in PA
d: Aft. 1799
Burial: Zion Stone Church Cemetery, Kreidersville, Northampton, PA

................3      John Jost DRIESBACH   
b October 26, 1757 in Northampton Co., PA
Baptism: February 08, 1758 Tohickon Reformed Church, Bedminster, Bucks Co, PA                   
d: February 13, 1813 in Minden, Montgomery Co, NY   
Burial: 1813 Fort Plain Reformed Dutch Church, Town of Minden, Montgomery Co, NY                   
..        +Catharina HOGHSTRASSER
b: Bet. 1774 - 1784           
m: October 16, 1790 in High and Low Dutch Reformed Church, Schoharie, NY           
d: November 09, 1845 in Manheim, Herkimer Co, NY   
Burial: 1845 Dutch Reformed Saint John's Church, St. Johnsville, Montgomery Co, NY               
   
......................4      Herr DRIESBACH (Jacob)                                          
b November 02, 1807 in Sharon, Schoharie Co., NY
d: December 05, 1877 in Apple Creek, Wayne Co, OH   
Burial: 1877 Wooster Cemetery, Wayne Co, OH       
..        +Sarah Ann WALTER   
b 1829 in OH
m: April 27, 1854 in Wayne Co, OH   
d: 1898 in Wooster, Wayne Co, OH   
Burial: 1898 Wooster Cemetery, Wayne Co, OH    Father: John Walter

...........................    5      Albert DRIESBACH   
b: abt November 3, 1860, Apple Creek, Wayne Co, OH              
d: December 17, 1863 in Apple Creek, Wayne Co, OH   
Burial: 1863 Wooster Cemetery, Wayne Co, OH       
...........................    5      Mary DRIESBACH   
b: Abt. 1865, Apple Creek, Wayne Co, OH             
d: Aft. 1870
, Apple Creek, Wayne Co, OH     
Burial: Wooster Cemetery, Wayne Co, OH       
...........................    5      Charles Walter DRIESBACH   
b January 20, 1867 in Wooster, Wayne Co, OH
d: August 19, 1925 in Bonners Ferry, Boundary Co, ID           
...............................        +Leah M. ?   
b: Abt. 1888 in South Dakota           
m: Abt. 1900   
d: Aft. 1930 in prob Spokane, WA           
 

Note: I have lost touch with Norwegian researcher Sigurd Ostrem.  Please send me your new email address, Sigurd!

Page last updated Tuesday, 27 July 2004
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